Lexus IS 350 — A redesign that works

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Lexus has taken its 2014 IS to the next level gaining sports sedan status equal to such vaunted players as the BMW 3-S
eries, the Audi A4 and the newly minted Cadillac ATS.  The redesigned sports sedan gets updated, contemporary styling; a new stiffer structure making it easier to tune for performance while maintaining a comfortable Lexus-like ride; a longer wheelbase resulting in additional and much-needed passenger space and a spacious trunk measured at 13.8 cubic feet; an interior upgrade befitting the Lexus emblem that blows away most of the cars in the segment; and added feature content.

After spending extensive time behind the wheel in an IS 350 AWD we were impressed at how the new Lexus felt; a motorized companion that answered our every driving need including the desire for some intense road carving, going fast in a hurry on lonely stretches of asphalt.

We didn't have a problem with Lexus' decision to retain the 3.5-liter V-6 found in the outgoing IS 350 generating 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. It's adequate, although at times hesitant in mid-range, but still competitive. And the 3.5 seems to work well with the new car's outstanding handling traits and precision steering.

We did find fault with Lexus' decision to carry over the 2.5-liter V-6 rated at 204 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque in the IS 250. The base IS cries out for a performance boost to keep it competitive at the compact segment entry level that includes an Audi A4 with a performance-oriented 2.0-liter turbocharged four making 220 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, and the BMW 328i with its 240-horsepower 2.0-liter inline-four.

We realize affordability needs to be addressed, but if you can stretch your resources opt for the IS 350 starting at $40,360. The IS 250 starts at $36,845 including destination charge. Opting for all-wheel drive will add about $1,300 to the bottom line. But be advised that all-wheel drive models come with a six-speed automatic while the rear-drive sedans get an eight-speed.

If you really have a need for race track challenges or bragging rights on your favorite winding rural road and you want all the IS has to offer, you will have to forego AWD. The advanced F-Sport package which includes an adaptive suspension and a more aggressive Sport S+ setting on the drive mode selector can only be ordered for rear-driven models. Also, variable-ratio steering can be purchased as a stand-alone option. Other F-Sport equipment including 18-inch wheels, sport-tuned suspension, upgraded brake pads, sport seats, a special sport-oriented adaptive instrument cluster and aluminum trim for the pedals and door scuff plates can be added to any model.

For comparison purposes, performance numbers on the IS 350 as measured by a major automobile publication include 5.4 seconds 0-to-60 and 13.9 seconds at 102 mph in the quarter mile. Stopping from 60-to-0 is perhaps on the high side for a sports sedan of this caliber at 126 feet. One statistic that might be as important for some is the sedan's gas mileage rating of 19-city and 28-highway for rear-drive models. AWD models are rated at 19/26.

The Lexus can be loaded up with a myriad of modern safety features, but unfortunately most are options. Optional are a rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, and a lane-departure warning. Also available is adaptive cruise control that brings pre-collision warning and initiates automatic braking to help mitigate a potential crash situation.

We like the new exterior styling tweaks with the exception of the in-your-face spindle grille. On the other hand, we think few will have a problem with the interior design, which to us is extremely attractive. Material quality is excellent and fit and finish superb. The audio and climate controls are set at an angle to minimize sun glare and buttons and knobs have an agreeable feel and are easy to use. The compact IS has also been infused with more Lexus serenity than before, making it as much an oasis of solitude as the flagship LS.

We still have a problem, however, with the Remote Touch control interface. The controller, inspired by a computer mouse, forces the driver to take his eyes off the road to concentrate on placement of the cursor. In vehicles with the Navigation package the driver is forced to use the controller because it's the primary method for making audio and navigation selections. One way out — use the voice recognition system for the infotainment functions.

Our IS 350 AWD test car carried a base price $41,700 and with such upgrades as the Navigation package and the F-Sport goodies the bottom line came to $49,737 including destination charge.

Base price: $40,360; as driven, $49,737
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 306 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 277 foot-pounds @ 4,800 rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 110.2 inches
Length: 183.7 inches
Curb weight: 3,737 pounds
Turning circle: 35.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 13.8 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 17.4 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 26 highway, 19 city
0-60: 5.4 seconds (Road & Track)
Also consider: BMW 335i, Infiniti Q50, Cadillac ATS

The Good
• Performance-oriented V-6
• Excellent road carving abilities
• Top-quality interior

The Bad
• All-wheel drive comes with old six-speed transmission

The Ugly
• Mouse-based controller distracting